When one thinks of the romantic city of Paris, France, she's probably often greeted with images of the Eiffel Tower while dining al fresco at a fancy restaurant, complete with a beret on her head. No one ever imagines Europeans duking it out over a feast of banana leaves, A.K.A. indulging in a meal Filipino boodle fight-style, barehanded and all.
Paris-based Filipino chef, Erica Paredes, however, begs to differ. Having entered the food game late into her career, Erica wasted no time in chasing after her dreams the moment she felt compelled to start out fresh. After a two year stint as the Editor-in-Chief of Manila-based beauty brand Calyxta, she hopped on a plane to France to pursue her culinary dreams at the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Although despite having graduated from the famous French school, Erica remains a champion of Filipino cuisine through and through. And what better way to integrate our culture into her French training than by introducing our kamayan way of eating to the Paris locals?
As Erica tells Preview, the idea was an exciting endeavor that came organically though unexpectedly. "One day, my small group of [Filipina] friends here asked me to do a boodle fight for them. I then decided to try doing a boodle fight for one of my supper clubs, not knowing if people would sign up for it. They did, and every time I had it, my table would be full," she recounts. "I still do plated dinners of course, but the request between plated and boodle nowadays is definitely 50-50. And a lot of them are not Filipino."
Even Heart Evangelista, who recently visited the city for Paris Fashion Week, took to Erica's boodle fight expertise as a way to introduce the Filipino culture to her friends. "It was so much fun, new, and interesting for them!" Heart gushed when asked of their reaction.
Get to know more of Erica, how she prepares for boodle fights, and more, in an exclusive interview with Preview, below!
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
"My first career was in publishing where I worked as a beauty editor for many years, and I was also a freelance makeup artist. I dabbled in food and lifestyle writing later on in my career. My last job in Manila before leaving for Paris almost four years ago was as Editor-in-Chief and Marketing and Sales Director of Calyxta.com. I decided I needed a change of scenery and to start the second career I was always too scared to pursue as it was now or never. I studied at Le Cordon Bleu Paris for a year and had stints in some French restaurants before starting my private chef business."
How and when did your passion for food and cooking start out?
"I would say since I was very young, like below 10 years old. I was not very good at looking up recipes, but I loved snooping around my mom's pantry and fridge to see what I could create out of what I could find. I even used to make pineapple jam and sell it to my [grandmother]. I think I really started cooking seriously when I moved out of my parents’ house at 22, and my then roomie who was the designated cook, moved out. It really became a choice between instant ramen and learning how to sauté some ingredients together. Thankfully, I chose the latter."
Take us through your beginnings as a chef. What eventually led you to hosting boodle fights?
"As I stated earlier, my training and background as a chef is French through and through. But I think because I started super late in life for a chef, I also have so much other influences from my childhood and my roots and all my travels all over the world. I really started out doing only French plated dinners, because it's what I thought people wanted. I was also still trying to find my voice. I then started incorporating Filipino flavors into my French dishes and vice versa.
One day, my small group of [Filipina] friends here asked me to do a boodle fight for them. I then decided to try doing a boodle fight for one of my supper clubs, not knowing if people would sign up for it. They did, and every time I had it, my table would be full. I still do plated dinners of course, but the request between plated and boodle nowadays is definitely 50-50. And a lot of them are not Filipino."
Why have you chosen to host boodle fights in particular?
"Honestly, boodle fights chose me! [Laughs] I do both boodle and plated but the boodles are just so popular I have to listen to my market!"
What's your favorite part about it?
"I love how first timers are so timid at first and really have no expectations because Pinoy food is so new to them. [I also love] how after a few attempts at scooping rice into their mouths with their hands, they are so comfortable already! I also like the community feel of boodle fights, which I think in essence, is what food and eating is to Filipinos—sharing and community."
Could you describe the normal fix of food that goes into your boodle fights?
"A whole lot of rice of course, prawns cooked in aligue and sprite, sinigang roast spring chicken with tamarind coconut gravy, crispy pork belly with kecap manis and kare kare sauce, gising gising, tortang talong, pan fried fish and all the accompaniments like tomatoes and hard boiled eggs, plus all the sauces. Dessert is usually seasonal fruits. Dinner also comes with a glass of wine and people are free to bring more of their own wine for sharing. The menu changes but normally [it consists of] two meats, two seafood, and two veggies and rice, plus a few others."
How many people usually participate?
"For privately booked dinners, I can take up to 14 people in my apartment and up to 20 elsewhere for boodle fights and up to 12 people for plated three-course dinners at my place."
Can you take us through the preparation process?
"I make everything from scratch including the sauces. Even when I make pandan panna cotta or ice cream, it's from the leaf and not flavoring! The only packet I use is sinigang mix when I make sinigang wings to toss the wings in after frying, but the actual marinade uses tamarind. I feel [we use] a lot of the packaged stuff we like as [Filipinos] because we grew up with it. But sometimes I eat it and realize that it really does not do justice to how good our food can be and if I’m going to introduce our flavors, I should use all fresh ingredients."
How has the reception been so far, especially from Europeans?
"They love it. It's such a new experience and also the flavors are new. Pinoy food is pretty mellow in comparison to our Southeast Asian neighbors which can sometimes be super spicy. So I feel it adapts easily to the French palate."
What's your advice to aspiring Filipino chefs hoping to make it internationally?
"Find your voice and be unapologetic about your brand of cooking. There is space for everyone in this industry."